Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fee to Pay by Mail?

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Some billers are taking more aggressive measures to get customers to pay bills electronically. Take a look at this article from The Beaumont Enterprise in Texas.

Jan. 11--Paying for cable television in Southeast Texas just got more expensive for some customers of Time Warner Cable.

That doesn't refer to just the bill for whatever level of service a customer might have. The act of paying for it by mail is what got more expensive.

Time Warner apparently wants to encourage its customers to pay their bill online, which means people need an Internet connection and have an established online banking capability.

If you don't, as of Jan. 1, your bills will cost 99 cents more to pay.

On the other hand, if you pay online, your bill would be 99 cents less.

"People are moving away from paper bills," said Gary Underwood, Time Warner spokesman. "It's a trend. It's not just our industry."

Jane Walker of Beaumont said she already pays online, but wants the paper statement every month to make certain she's not being charged more than she deserves.

"I pay my bills timely," she said. "For a company the size of Time Warner to charge people 99 cents to send a bill is horrendous."

Walker wrote a letter to The Enterprise in protest of Time Warner's new "Go Green" program, which is how the cable giant is framing the charge. The company said the initiative will reduce paper waste and help to "save the environment."

Walker isn't so certain of Time Warner's motives.

"I would ask them to explain to me why," she said. "They know there are people who can't say no. Isn't it enough to pay our bills timely? It makes me angry that they can do this. Isn't there anyone who oversees this?"

Time Warner enjoys something like an unregulated monopoly in many areas of Southeast Texas, unlike Entergy Texas and AT&T. Neither the electric company nor the telephone company charges customers to send pay by mail.

"Entergy has no plans to charge," spokeswoman Debi Derrick said. "We give our customers a choice. Any new charge would likely require Public Utility Commission approval."

AT&T spokesman Dan Feldstein said: "We do not charge customers who elect to have paper billing."

Wanda Luke of Port Neches said she's been paying her bills online for the last 18 months and she likes the convenience of it.

"It's worked out wonderful for me. Friends had a good level of comfort with online banking. I can look at the complete bill and I can even get more detail, like with my American Express bill," she said.

However, Luke said she didn't realize Time Warner would charge people 99 cents if they still wanted the paper bill in the mail.

"I'm thinking only about how much I can save," she said.

If all of Time Warner's customers in Southeast Texas -- numbering perhaps 100,000 -- paid the 99-cent charge, that's about $99,000 per month just to pay the bill.

Underwood said people also can pay at Time Warner's kiosks, 1420 Calder Ave., Beaumont; and 602 N. U.S. 69, Nederland. To avoid the 99-cent charge, a customer still needs online banking capability.

For those who might want another option, the Yellow Pages -- still available in print version in the free telephone book supplied by AT&T -- has plenty of listings under "satellite and cable TV equipment."

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